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UnlikelyReview - Unlikely
Or How I Lost My Virginity
by Jeffrey Brown
Top Shelf, 2003
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Sep 27th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 39)

Jeffrey Brown specializes in writing graphic novels about his tortuous relationships with messed up women. He is notorious for his crude drawings and occasionally indecipherable lettering. This will be enough to put off some potential readers, which will be a shame, because Unlikely is really touching. One reason for this is that at the time of Jeff's relationship with Allisyn he is twenty-four years old, making him one of the oldest virgins in North America. It turns out that Allisyn has had seventeen previous lovers, and most of them cheated on her. Both Jeffrey and Allisyn take medication for their emotional troubles, and she has had previous substance abuse problems in the past. Once the two of them start having sex, it turns out that he takes longer to reach a climax than she does, and strangely she sees this as a problem. (They never consider that his delay may be related to his medication.) While the two young people love each other and try to work through their issues, it is no great surprise that it all goes wrong and ends in tears.

There are several reasons to like this sad tale. First, it is unusual. It deals with a young man who has not rushed into having sex, and while never very visually explicit, it still sets out the sexual problems between him and his girlfriend in more detail than one normally finds in a memoir. Jeffrey as a graphic artist is an unusual sort of person, not often depicted in memoirs, and he and his friends are slightly alternative and bohemian. Allisyn has short hair and dresses androgynously. The couple is sweet together as they fall in love, but they both seem a little emotionally immature for people in their mid-twenties.

Second, the story is told well. As with his other books, Brown has a knack of showing small events that reflect emotions and portend the future. When Jeffrey and Allisyn are getting to know each other and are becoming comfortable with each other, they sleep together without having sex. One night they are on a bed together and she directs him to rest his hand on her, saying "I like to have a hand on my butt while I fall asleep." He does this, and he has a small smile on his face in the dark. It's silly but captures a moment in his getting used to being physical with her. While Brown's drawing is undeniably crude, he is pretty good at facial expressions, and you can tell a lot about what is going on from looking carefully at Jeff or Allisyn's faces. Early on in their relationship, he has a sense of wonderment and trepidation as he gets closer to her, and he always seems to be accepting and warm towards her even when she is very weird or annoying.

Third, few books of any kind show as well as Unlikely the difficulties of a couple learning about each other sexually and trying to get used to each other. Ultimately, it seems that Allisyn never feels comfortable with Jeff, and he is never quite sure what the problem was. He even wonders if he is too small for her, and she wonders whether she has become too stretched out for him, because of all the lovers she had before him. It is wonderful for a book to capture this uncertainty and exploration, and Brown manages to do this superbly.

Of course, as with Brown's other books, you wonder how different the story would be if it were told by his girlfriend. Allisyn comes across as deeply self-destructive and unhappy, and unwilling to help herself through the opportunity of this relationship. Her take is undoubtedly very different, and she probably would have some comments on Jeffrey's problems that Brown himself says little or nothing about. But that one-sided-ness is in the nature of memoir writing, and there's no reason to think that Brown is any more biased a narrator than anyone else.

So Unlikely is a unique graphic novel with a great deal of charm. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Links:

        Top Shelf Comix

        theholyconsumption

        Review of Clumsy

        Review of AEIOU

 

 

 

2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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